Tag Archives: Mountains

The Inn Way to the Lake District, England – Part 1

Day 1 – Ambleside to Rosthwaite – 13 miles (21km) – 8 hours

There is only one word that can describe today, drizzle. This was the forecast for the day, and that’s it turned out. While I’ve had spells of rain on other hikes, such as when I climbed Snowdon, today it rained all day. This constant wetness put some of my gear to the test, but I’m glad I invested in dry bags, as my pack cover did a fairly average job at keeping things in my pack dry.

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I left my accommodation late this morning, my packing taking longer than I had hoped. When I did get away, there was already a slight drizzle. The YHA Ambleside is a kilometre from central Ambleside, and this added extra distance to the day. When I got into town, I found more adventure stores than I could count. I stopped at the local Tesco to pick up some zip lock bags to protect my phone, then I headed north following a major road. After a while, I was led across Rydal Park and with some of the fells just beginning to be covered in clouds.

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At the far end of the park is Rydal, a quaint little village that I swept quickly through. I followed a stony trail, gently gaining altitude as I climbed around a hill called Nab Scar. To my left, I began to see Rydal Water coming more into view, with Heron Island in the centre.

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The trail continued to ascend slowly, passing the occasional cottage. The path then cut north and began to climb towards Alcock Tarn, a small mountain lake. As I got higher, I looked down onto Grasmere Lake.

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Alongside the lake near the village of Town End there was a gathering of some kind, a race day perhaps, based on the voices coming off the PA system.

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In the weather, my GPS tracker seemed on the fritz, so I followed the map as best as I could in the weather. At one point, as I climbed, I could hear the baying of dogs from above. I stopped, and more than a dozen dogs, all of the same breed, came screaming down the hill, leaping the trail as it went. I am not sure where they were going, but they were going there in a hurry. After some time and much climbing, I eventually make it to Alcock Tarn.

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While the climb was fairly steep, the descent was worse as the stones were slippery. This forced me to take my time as I made my way down. After a time I eventually came down into the township of Grassmere. Like Ambleside, it was bloated with tourists, with many cafes and other places tourists like to go. It is, after all, school holidays and a bank holiday weekend.

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As I passed through Grassmere, I came across a paddock filled with black sheep. I had seen the occasional black sheep during my many walks in England, but this one paddock looked like something had gone wrong. A sheep death march or something.

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At the other side of the village, I crossed a footbridge over Basedale Beck and out onto a path made from large cobbles. In the distance, I got my first sight of where another Beck came down out of the hills.

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I cross some paddocks, and then followed a trail along a stonewall under Jackdaw Crag, again the Beck coming down out of the hills was visible in the distance.

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The climb was long and somewhat arduous, but in the ever-present rain, I slogged on, my little umbrella doing wonders. I climbed higher up Far Easedale Gill, the rain coming harder and the hills around me disappearing into the mist. I pushed on unable to see how much further I had to go. When I got to the top, it was a brief flat area before I began climbing Greenup Edge. In the rain, it was not difficult, only long. Eventually, I did get to the top to a long plateau of boggy ground.

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It was here I got a little lost, my GPS was working, but in the mist, I could not find the correct trail. I followed the path ahead of me, but the squelching of my boots that were by now completely filled with water was not fun.

I did eventually find the trail and found that there was a series of cairns set up by previous walkers. As I walked, I heard a shout and looked up to see five people rushing towards me, so I stopped. When they arrived, they were very pleased to see me. It seems, they had been lost for a couple of hours in the mist, and I was the first person they had seen. Thankfully, I was on the correct trail and gave them some advice on how to get to Grassmere.

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At the top of a crag, I looked down the Greenup Gill. As I began my descent into the valley, I noticed someone climbing towards me. When he arrived, I stopped for a chat. It was a South African guy who had lived in New Zealand for several years. I gave him the same ‘follow the cairns’ advice I had given the previous group, and he set off again. The wind had picked up, so I put down my umbrella and for the first time in the day, took out my walking poles. Slippery stones are dangerous, and I did not wish to hurt myself on my first day of seven.

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The Stonethwaite Beck was running fast due to recent rain. I crossed on a footbridge where another river joined it, crossed that second river and followed a stony road around past a cottage.

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After another kilometre, and passing through Stonethwaite, I finally arrived at my accommodation for the night. A long hard walk in the rain, but that’s what you sometimes get, at least it was not as bad as it could have been.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

3-day Trek, Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar

Most hikes to Inle Lake start at Kalaw, a township about an hour west of Inle Lake. Most buses stop at Kalaw on the way through dropping off tourists to do the hike. The tour company will take your pack and arrange for it to be waiting for you at your hotel at the other end.

But, if you’re like me and don’t like the idea of handing over your Macbook and other electronics to a random stranger hoping it will all appear at the other end, then the bus continues on to Nyaung Shwe, the main tourist town of Inle Lake. Once there you can find your hotel and make arrangements to have your things put in a locker before arranging a bus back to Kalaw.

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There are plenty of trekking guides in Kalaw but for some reason I was drawn past all the others to Sam’s Family Restaurant and Trekking. They gave me the options of different lengths of trek, from 1 to 3 days and the prices depending on number of people in the group, from 1 to 6 people. Of course, the more the people, the lower the price.

You are then asked to come back the night before the trek to meet the others in your group. With group treks it’s important to get the right group. The group I was to go with seemed nice people and were from all across Europe. We were given a vague trek plan and shown our route on a map. Here is a vague approximation of the route although ours was slightly different.

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Day 1

It had rained overnight, which didn’t bode well for the trek. On top of that, as my room at the guesthouse was above the kitchen, I was awakened at 4.30am by someone messing around with pots and pans. Then, as if to ensure I had no hope of getting back to sleep, the water pump beside the kitchen started. At least the rain had stopped.

After breakfast, I headed down to Sam’s Family Restaurant at the allotted 8.30am time to get ready for the trek. But when I got there I found that I’d been put into a different group. My new group did not seem as friendly as the other and contained three Israelis and two French girls.

We began walking through the streets of Kalaw, avoiding motorbikes as we went. We then headed out onto a dirt road through houses with plentiful flower gardens.

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I stopped to take photos as the rest of the group chatted away. This was when the realisation hit me that my five hiking companions were all talkers. So, I hung out at the back to try to enjoy the sounds of nature without having to listen to the constant dribble of human voices. This is, after all, why I started hiking alone all that time ago.

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Finally, after a short time we left the sound of engines and motorbikes behind and started out along a dirt trail. The track led us through an evergreen forest for an hour with several short climbs.

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As we went we passed a couple of rice paddies hidden among the trees.

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After an hour in the forest we arrived at a reservoir where we stopped to rest and watch some locals fishing.

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After our rest and a banana, we headed back into the forest for forty-five minutes with more climbing, although nothing too strenuous. We eventually reached a view-point high on the side of the hill above a green tea plantation.

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Ten minutes further on we stopped at a Nepali Restaurant which allowed more great views while we ate our vegetarian curries. After sitting briefly with my group, I discovered they preferred to chat together in their own languages. As I was the only native english speaker I decided to sit with my original group who were more willing to talk in a common language.

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After lunch we walked further along the ridge until we met a group of local ladies from the Paung tribe of the Hin Kai Kung village who were heading to work in the tea plantation. They were more than happy to pose for some photos with us.

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We walked around the end of the valley following a dirt road and came through their village nestled high on the hilltop opposite our viewpoint lunch spot.

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Once past the village, we descended downhill on the dirt road for nearly an hour. I was enjoying being out in nature again after so long and as I had for most of the day I dropped back far enough that I could barely hear the ongoing loud chatter of my group.

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We again passed several paddy fields on the way to the railway line. We then walked along the sleepers for forty minutes, not worried about oncoming trains as they move so slowly there would have been plenty of time to get out of the way.

We then stopped for a 15-minute break in the disused railway station of the Nyin Dirk village of the Daung people, which is now a cafe type eatery. After the rest we walked on through paddy fields towards our stopping point.

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With about an hour to go the sky opened up and it poured on us. This left us with a muddy climb through hills.

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This made the last part of the day longer and harder. Soaked through we eventually made it to the Sat Sky Kong village of the Daung Tribe where we were able to put our packs down and change into dry clothing. I grabbed a beer from the local store before dinner, which was amazing, several different plates with curries and other vegetable dishes, all with rice. After dinner, we hung out in the kitchen with our guide, the cook and two of the owners, drinking the local Myanmar rum. Then we sunk into a sleep at around 9.30pm.

Day 2

The roosters began at 5.00am but only for ten minutes before falling silent again. We continued to doze until 7am when breakfast was brought into our room consisting of french toast, fruit and coffee. I learned that the french call french toast ‘toast’ although Paen Perdu better describes what we know.

After breakfast we prepared to leave, stopping for some of the group to buy fresh water at the store while the rest of us looked out over the village paddy fields.

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We headed out of the Sat Sky Kong village around 8.30am on a wide dirt road, with some puddles.

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As we walked, we noted the plentiful paddy fields were in many stages of being planted. Some were being tilled and it was from this we learned the value of buffalo to these people. They can be a cheaper, self-sustaining but much slower version of the motorbike.

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But for the most part it is the strength of the buffalo that is treasured. A single buffalo can till a field quickly and easily while would take two oxen to do the same work in slower time. Buffalos are not cheap, each costing about US$2,500, so they are well looked after and usually not eaten. Here the farmer is giving his buffalo a bath and by the sounds coming from the buffalo, it was enjoying it immensely.

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After two and a half hours of walking we stopped for a green tea break in the Kyatsu village of the Baro tribe. Then it was off again along the dirt road through more paddy fields. After talking constantly and loudly throughout the first part of the day causing me to drop back again to be able to hear nature, the Israelis seemed to run out of things to talk about and decided to listen to music instead, singing along for the rest of the day.

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While it did not rain before lunch there was a low haze over the mountains. There is a sense of mystery about a landscape cloaked in clouds.

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We arrived in the Nan Dhin village of the Daung Yo tribe for lunch at a cafe-like eatery. There were two other groups there already, the group I had almost begun with and another I had not met before. I hung out with the french girls in my group and chatted as we ate.

It poured during lunch but thankfully the store sold rain ponchos. While I have a jacket it no longer resists the rain, as I learned during the last hour of day one. The rain poncho was too long, so I cut it down to a better size. This amused the staff although they were even more amused when several other members of the groups bought and cut down their ponchos as well. But as soon as we set out after lunch the rain stopped. We followed a red dirt road across more fields, the Israelis singing away loudly to the amusement of any locals we came across.

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Beyond stopping for an occasional five-minute break here and there, we did not take an afternoon break but plodded along the red dirt road towards the low mountains in the distance, passing small settlements and people working in the fields.

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About an hour before we were due to stop for the day we finally left the road and headed across some muddy tracks through paddy fields. It was around then that it began sporadically raining which caused the mud to be, well, more muddy. This put a damper on the last part of the day and made the mud sticky and heavy on tired legs.

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By the time we reached the Partu Park village of the Daung Th tribe most of us were over the day. We just wanted to get to the room, put our packs down, take our boots off and get a beer. So that was pretty much what we did. The other group had arrived before we had, so I joked around with them a little. Then over dinner, a fish curry and vegetables, the Israelis went off into a discussion in hebrew, the french girls went off in a discussion in french and I was left to myself. So, tired after the day I went to bed.

Day 3

At breakfast the discussion again split into the three language groups. This brought me to a decision to ask to walk with the other group. With several european nationalities among them including Denmark, Holland, Spain and Belgium they predominantly spoke in the common english language.

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Hiking with a friendly and inclusive group makes a lot of difference. This and the fact that much of the day was spent walking along trails through the mountains instead of dirt roads led me to regard day three the best day of the hike.

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We stopped briefly at another Kyatsu village for the Baro tribe before starting our descent towards the plateau where Inle Lake resides.

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We passed the Inle Region checkpoint where we had to pay US$10, but as I had already got a ticket on my initial visit I did not have to pay again. We stopped for a longer green tea break at the Nan Yart village of the Baro tribe where we saw two other groups that we had not seen before.

Then after the break we headed further down the valley to the first views of the lake.

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Along the way we passed this tree, a cousin to the Bodhi tree, the enlightened tree from India the buddha would sit under. This one is over one hundred and fifty years old.

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Then we headed through the pass to the plateau with views of the Inle Lake.

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We stopped for lunch at the Donenay village of the Innthar tribe where my original group was also having lunch. I sat with the group I’d walked with on day three and rested for thirty minutes before a ten minute walk to the boats that would take us across Inle Lake to the township of Nyaung Shwe.

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During the first part of the hour-long trip across the lake we saw fishermen laying nets and steering their boats with their feet.

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With the occasional boat similar to ours racing past.

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And mountains on both sides covered in ominous rain clouds.

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During the last half of the boat ride those ominous clouds opened up and it poured with rain, so we donned our cut-down ponchos until we were delivered to the jetty.

That evening I met up with my group from day 3 for pizza, european food after days of local food. I had the Tutti Pizza, which I call the ‘Monk Pizza’… one with everything.

Overall, other than ending up with the wrong group, the trek was not bad. The last day was definitely the highlight although the surroundings for most of the trek were amazing. It was great to be out in nature again as it’s been 18 months since my last hike which was to Ciudad Perdida in the Jungles of Northern Colombia.

Then with a heavily blistered foot and a little toe with an infection, I hung out in Nyaung Shwe for a couple of days before heading north to Mandalay.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 4

I’ve recently ridden the length of Vietnam on a Scooter.

Incase you missed them:
Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 1
Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 2
Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 3

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Day 18 – Nha Trang to Da Lat – 139km
Da Lat is in the southern highlands and is my first foray from the coast since my rained out trip to Tham Duc. This time the weather was amazing, with cloudless blue skies. Nha Trang’s crazy traffic was something I was grateful to leave and as I rode away from AH1 I rejoiced in the lack of roadworks and trucks.

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The road was one of the best so far as it slowly climbed into the mountains to a height of around 1500 metres. It got colder the higher I went and especially so when I was not in direct sunlight. I stopped for a break at an empty lot with a solitary tree that caught my inspiration.

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Most days I only pass one or two other tourist riders. Today I counted somewhere around 35 tourist bikes, many with passengers. I expected Da Lat to be a small mountain town but instead found a city surrounded by vast valleys of greenhouses. But then, it is the flower capital of Vietnam. While the motorcycle traffic was crazy, the city has a beautiful lake at its centre, along with pink blooming cherry trees.

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Day 19 – Da Lat Countryside Tour
For only the second time on this trip I booked a tour, desiring to be driven around for a change. Our first stop was a flower farm, busy because of Valentine’s day and Chinese New Year.

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Then it was off to a coffee plantation where we got to try Weasel Coffee. Weasel coffee turned out to be the Luwak coffee I’d tried in Indonesia. Apparently the Vietnamese only have one word which means both Asian Palm Civet and Weasel. We then stopped at a silk processing factory, where they create silk thread from silkworm cocoons. It was here we ate roasted silk worm. Not something you do everyday, or probably want to ever do again…

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We also visited the Hang Nga Guesthouse, also known as ‘the crazy house’. Built by a local architect the house has many walkways, some going over the rooftops or across the yards. The guesthouse is so popular that bookings are required months in advance. The owner has purchased several houses in the adjacent block and is in the process of adding them to the initial house.

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Day 20 – Da Lat to Phan Thiet – 159km
Coming down from the highlands saw an interesting change in temperatures. The long windproof pants, shoes and socks, jumper and windproof jacket became too hot. As I got closer to Pan Thiet I had to pull over and take off the jumper, but was still hot.

On a side note, hotels in Vietnam can be fairly cheap. This is what US$8.90 gets you.

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This includes cable TV, air con, double bed, ensuite bathroom, bar fridge and high-speed wireless internet. They aren’t luxury resorts and there’s no view, but you don’t really need these things when you’re either out exploring or sleeping.

Day 21 – Mui Ne Beach – 36km Round Trip
Eighteen kilometres from Phan Thiet is the popular tourist beach town of Mui Ne. Like Nha Trang, it’s very popular with Russian tourists, but while this seems to put some people off, I have no trouble with attractive Russian women. Exploring the area, I rode around several beautiful beaches (all unfortunately with their share of rubbish).

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I also found another Cham tower ruin similar to the one in Nha Trang.

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And I walked for a kilometre along the ankle-deep Fairy Springs. The red water leads through some very interesting formations in the white rock and orange sands.

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Day 22 – Phan Thiet to Vung Tau – 167km
Today was so hot I wore shorts and a t-shirt instead of my full riding gear. The road followed Vietnam’s southern coast with plentiful beaches. Then, not far from my destination I had bike troubles again and I stopped to get it fixed. That brings my total bike issues to eight.

I liked Vung Tau and wished I could have stayed longer, but with an expiring Visa I was running out of time. Even with the bike troubles, I still had time to explore the peninsula, and found this statue of Christ on one of the clifftops, listed as the 8th most famous Christ statue in the world.

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On a hill at the other end of the peninsula I found a large statue of St Mary beside the St Mary’s Church…

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They like putting things on hills here, as there are ones with sitting buddhas, temples, towers and no doubt others. Then out on the water, there’s a temple out on a small island which includes a pair of bunkers from the war.

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Day 23 – Vung Tau to Ho Chi Minh City – 116km
Today was to be a short day, but it just wasn’t to be. While the bike gave me little trouble, it was my replacement phone that sent me off along the wrong path before freezing until an hour later when I managed to find my own way to the main highway. From there it was fairly straight forward all the way to the hotel, passing what I call the Face of Saigon, an attraction at the Soui Tien Cultural Amusement Park.

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While I’ve enjoyed this experience greatly, the problems with my bike have given me enough frustration that I’m glad it’s come to an end.

Vietnam South1

Next, I explore Ho Chi Minh City and make preparations to sell my scooter.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 2

I’m currently riding the length of Vietnam on a Scooter. Here’s Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 1 if you missed it.

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Day 6 – Hong Linh to Dong Hui – 223km
While the more direct route would have been about 50km shorter, today I wanted ride the Ho Chi Minh highway for the first time. This highway follows the Ho Chi Minh Trail used during the American War with amazing mountainous scenery. The weather remained fairly good, although I had to stop to put pack-covers on my bags when a particularly nasty cloud threatened, but nothing came of it.

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I arrived at Dong Hui and after getting settled into my hostel, took a ride around a city that had been laid waste during the war. Dong Hui is virtually a new city, as there’s little left of how it was. The city isn’t on the tourist route and the beautiful empty beaches were serene.

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Day 7 – Dong Hui to Hue – 176km
Today started out with blue skies over the ocean but began turning sour after half an hour out from Dong Hui. While it didn’t actually rain, it seriously threatened to. With heavy black clouds further inland, I decided to take a more direct route to Hue. I’m not sure which would have been the lesser of the two evils, getting rained on or riding through the constant road works every 2km. To make it worse, the roads were jammed with trucks spraying up dust and sand from the road works. Before lunch I rode through the Demilitarized Zone, crossing out of what was North Vietnam and into South Vietnam, stopping at the War Memorial Monument.

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Then as I arrived on the outskirts of Hue, I crossed another milestone, my 1000th kilometre on the road since leaving Hanoi. Later in the afternoon, I walked around the ruins of the Imperial City and at its centre, the forbidden Purple City. it was home to the ruling dynasty between 1800 and 1950, when Hue was the Vietnam’s capital.

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Day 8 – Hue Rest Day
There are many stories of motorcycles that break down regularly on this trip through Vietnam. While often cheap to repair because most Vietnamese boys over the age of 12 can fix them, it’s inconvenient. To date I’ve suffered only a flat tyre and in hopes of staving off any other issues, I got the scooter serviced. While the bike was away, I took the day off and just hung around the hostel.

Day 9 – Hue to Hoi An – 130km
Since the ride to Hoi An was to shorter than average, I decided to see more of the sights around Hue before heading on. I found the Thien Mu Temple and Pagoda a little away from the Imperial Palace and stopped for a look.

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Around Hue, there several tombs belonging to the emperors who ruled from Hue. I took some time to visit the closest one to town – Tu Duc Tomb – and was surprised at how large the area was. The location was called the Second Imperial City as the emperor used it as his ‘man cave’ to get away from affairs of home and state.

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After my visit I headed to Hoi An, but on the way disaster struck. An hour out of Hue I got a flat tyre, then only a minute away from where the puncture was repaired, the engine cut out and wouldn’t start again. The ‘mechanic’ who fixed my tyre and who didn’t speak any english informed me I needed a new carburetor. Ninety minutes and a million Dong (US$47) later I was back on the road. So much for servicing it to prevent it breaking down. I continued on, crossing the Hai Van Pass and eventually arrived in Hoi An two hours later than expected.

Day 10 – Exploring Hoi An
Like Hue, Hoi An is a popular tourist spot. After breakfast, I headed out on the bike to a location called My Son where there are the ruins of an old Hindu temple complex. Of the buildings, some have barely a column standing while others are in the process of being rebuilt.

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I then rode into Da Nang, a city north of Hoi An, to a place called the Marble Mountains. Atop the monolithic mountains is a large buddhist temple complex with plentiful adjoining caves.

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The Marble Mountains give great views along My Khe Beach, as 30 km stretch of nicknamed China Beach by the Americans during the war. It was used as both an evacuation hospital area and site for rest and recreation during the war.

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Day 11 – Hoi An Rest Day
As I had spent a lot of time on my bike around Hoi An yesterday, I decided to take the day off and just relax around Hoi An, so I did.

Vietnam Central1

In Part 3, I head south into the Vietnamese highlands.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 1

Riding a motorbike the length of Vietnam is becoming a popular way to see the country. After hearing about a fellow traveller’s motorcycle adventure from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City I decided to do it. So I bought a scooter in Hanoi and prepared for an adventure that would take the better part of three weeks.

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Here’s a brief breakdown of my trip…

Day 1 – Hanoi to Ha Long Bay – 167km
Ha Long Bay is a tourist destination not traditionally part of the Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City route, but I added it anyway. It would give me a chance to test my scooter over long distance.

The main highway is well maintained and once I was out of the super bustle of Hanoi it was even relaxing. With my speed averaging between 50 and 60 kilometre per hour, a good speed without pushing the scooter, the trip took about 5 hours. With a terribly sore arse and only 5km short of my hotel I discovered I had a flat tyre. A friendly local offered to fix it for me for US$5.

Later, after checking into my hotel I went for a ride to have a look around the city and book a cruise.

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Day 2 – Ha Long Bay Boat Cruise
It was a misty, overcast day for my cruise. But being the middle of winter all is forgiven. Ha Long Bay means literally ‘descending dragon bay’ and has around 1600 limestone monoliths scattered around it. While it was chilly out on the water and the skies grey, the views were still amazing. Mist hung around the monoliths giving the bay both an eerie and magical appearance.

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The tour took us to some interesting places and we got to walk through the depths of Thien Cung Grotto, a large touristy cave system where many sections were lit up in colours.

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We also visited a floating village, a fish market and a pair of small monoliths called Fighting Cock Rocks, which from certain angles look vaguely like a pair of chickens fighting.

Day 3 – Ha Long Bay to Ninh Binh – 175km
On several occasions during today’s ride it threatened to rain, but other than vaguely spitting, nothing came of it. Today, when my arse began to get sore, I stopped and got off the bike for a bit. Five minute every hour seemed to work well.

I arrived in Ninh Binh on time and after settling in the hotel, I headed out to explore. I found a place called Bich Dong Pagoda, which is a buddhist temple set into the side of a limestone mountain.

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I followed a path into the cave, up a long set of stairs to a higher cave and a shrine, outside and up another set of stairs to another building which offered great views. A thin trail lead up around behind this building and ever curious, I had a look. Thirty minutes later, I’d climbed the jagged rocks of the mountain and stood at the top looking out over monoliths surrounded by wet rice paddies.

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Day 4 – Ninh Binh to Thanh Hoa/Sam Son Beach – 64km

The weather has been overcast for much of my time in Vietnam, clearing up a little in the afternoons. Today, however, I awoke to blue skies. This decided my next stop. The beach. The ride was barely longer than an hour and as I arrived in Thanh Hoa, I discovered the huge Thien view Truc Lam Ham Rong temple and pagoda on a hill.

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Then when I was settled into the hotel, where beyond the word ‘hello’ no-one could speak English, I was back on the bike and rode the 13km out to Sam Son beach. While the skies were bare of clouds, the beach was virtually empty. Winter. I rode around the Sam Son area for some time, discovering a large portion of the beach front is a construction zone. Dozens of brick buildings are in the process of being demolished, likely to build more resorts.

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Day 5 – Thanh Hoa to Hong Linh – 174km

Today’s five hour ride was fairly straightforward. In the small town of Hong Linh, I arrived at my hotel to find the years had not been kind to it. Seven years ago, a flood struck the town, possibly flooding the lower levels and killing the hotel’s business. After settling in, I took a ride around town and stopped to admire the local catholic church.

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Compared to the rest of Asia, Vietnam has a lot of churches. You can see their spires as you approach each city and town. In comparison, there are very few buddhist temples, although most houses still have shrines.

Vietnam North1

In Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City by Scooter – Part 2, I travel into Central Vietnam and explore the areas struck hardest by the American War.

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Mapping My Journey So Far

Sixteen months on the road is a long time. During that time I covered quite a distance and did many things. While I’ve been ‘resting’ in the United Kingdom, I’ve put together a step by step rundown of my trip including maps.

South East Australia

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In a van called the Pointy Brick I…

Antarctica, Chile and Argentina

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From Brisbane, I flew to Auckland and spent 3 weeks with family before flying to South America where I…

Brazil, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador

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From Buenos Aires I…

Colombia, Central America and Mexico

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From Ecuador I…

The Full Map. May take some time to load.

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The World Wanderer

Looking Back, Central America

While it took ten months to work my way up the massive continent of South America, three months seemed only a short time to explore the Central America sub-continent even though it’s barely larger than Colombia. But since I was in the neighbourhood…

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Panama

San Blas Islands

With no straightforward bus route from Colombia to Panama, I chose a five-day cruise through the San Blas Islands, finishing in Panama City. The San Blas Islands are a glorious chain of islands in the Caribbean Sea, but make sure you do your research as the cruises aren’t always up to standard.

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Panama City

After so long in South America Panama City feels a little like home with its massive skyscrapers, malls, cinemas and fast food chains. When travelling long-term you lose the sense of time and on arrival in Panama days before Christmas I forget that it was prime holiday season for the locals. With most of the holiday destinations booked solid and long lines to get on any buses, I decided to spend the holidays hanging around the city. While there I visited the colonial old quarter of Casco Viejo, the canal and the ruins of Panama Viejo.

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Being in Panama City feels like being in the United States. There are so many Americans and I rarely needed to use my spanish skills as most people spoke english.

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Bocas del Toro

After the holiday break I headed west to Bocas del Toro, an archipelago on the border of Costa Rica. In the surf/party town I took the opportunity to spend a day on a catamaran snorkelling around the reefs and another sitting in a hammock at the hostel.

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Boquete

Then taking a chicken bus, I spent three days in the cooler climes of the mountain town of Boquete. While there I climbed the tallest mountain in the country – Volcán Barú. The views were wonderful from the top, but starting the 26km hike at midnight is difficult. So to recover I spent time in some natural hot springs just outside of town.

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Costa Rica

San José

Costa Rica has a reputation for being the most expensive country in Central America. From the capital, San José, I took a tour to the top of a volcano before boating along a river to see monkeys, a sloth, caimans, crocodiles and many different types of birds. It was during this tour that Iguana was served for lunch.

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Liberia

Next I headed north to the city of Liberia from where I visited the beach town of Playa del Coco and a set of waterfalls.

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Nicaragua

San Juan del Sur

My first stop in Nicaragua was the surf town of San Juan del Sur. A beautiful place to spend a couple of days with bars and beach-front restaurants aplenty. The town even has a statue of Christ atop a hill at the end of the beach.

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Isla Ometepe

No trip to Nicaragua is complete without catching the ferry across Lake Nicaragua to Ometepe Island with its pair of volcanos. Cruising around the volcanos on a scooter is a lot of fun, visiting beaches, cafés and thermal pools. Both volcanos are climbable and a group of us scaled the largest of the two.

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Granada

Next, I was on a bus to the touristic city of Granada at the northern end of the lake for some amazing food and a visit to yet another volcano, this one spewing smoke from the crater within its crater.

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León

Then a quick stop off on the city of Léon to go hurtling down the side of an active volcano on a volcano board.

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Honduras and El Salvador

With limited time, I set foot only briefly in both countries, mainly at customs on the borders. San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador seemed nice though for the thirty minutes we stopped there for lunch.

Guatemala

Antigua

Most travellers in Central America rave about Guatemala.  I arrived into Antigua to find another touristic city at the base of another volcano. Unlike other parts of Central America, Antigua has a lot of colonial architecture, although after numerous earthquakes over the centuries, many are in ruins.

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San Pedro la Laguna

I enjoyed a couple of days in San Pedro la Laguna on Lago Antitla with its thin streets, crazy Tuk Tuk drivers, great small restaurants and amazing lake views.

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Flores and Tikal

Then after a brief visit back in Antigua, I caught a bus to the north of the country to the island of Flores on Lago de Petén Itzá.

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Flores is a tourist destination and gateway to the great Maya ruins of Tikal, where I spent several hours exploring.

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Belize

Caye Caulker

Then on the one year anniversary of my time in Latin America I arrived in Belize, an english speaking country. Staying on the party island of Caye Caulker, I spent some time in the pristine waters snorkelling with Nurse sharks and Eagle Rays, some larger than I am.

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Mexico

While Mexico is actually in North America I included the southern portions as part of my Central American adventure. From Caye Caulker, I caught a ferry to Chetumal in Mexico and stopped for the night before heading on.

Palenque and Yaxchilán

After an eight-hour bus ride I arrived at the city of Palenque to continue The Maya Ruins Trail I began at Tikal. My first stop was the peaceful ruins of Yaxchilán and its connected site of Bonampak on the Guatemalan Border.

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Next it was to the Palenque ruins only twenty minutes out of the city.

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Merida and Uxmal

Four hours north in the Yucatán is Merida, a large and popular touristic city and the nearby ruins of Uxmal and one of its satellite cities, Kabah.

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Valladolid and Chichén Itzá

Then it was across to the city of Valladolid to see Mexico’s most visited archaeological site, Chichén Itzá, seen by more people every year than Peru’s Macchu Pichu.

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Tulum

Then it was back to the Caribbean Coastline to the town of Tulum and the Maya fortress of the same name.

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Cancún and Playa del Carmen

The final distinction in my thirteen month trip through Latin America, Cancún, where I did little more than prepare for my exit from Latin America, but managed a quick visit to the beaches at Playa del Carmen.

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Next, is a well deserved rest from travelling for six months to save and plan a year through Asia.

Adios America Latina,

The World Wanderer.

San Pedro la Laguna, Guatemala – Impressions

Four hours west of Antigua is Lake Atitlán, the deepest lake in Central America. It was formed 84,000 years ago when a massive volcano collapsed in on itself. There are still three lava filled mounds running along the southern flank of the picturesque lake as part of Volcano Alley.

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Of the dozen communities surrounding the lake, of which Santiago Atitlán is the largest, many are not reachable by road.

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San Pedro la Laguna was the community I chose to visit, but it’s no less touristy than Santiago Atitlán. San Pedro la Laguna has a defined hippy feel to it. Many of the younger locals and long-term visitors not only run art stalls, but in general sport loose-fitting tie-dyed clothing, bare feet, dreadlocks and tattoos. This was due to an influx of ‘hippies’ into the area in the 1960s from the US.

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The streets of San Pedro la Laguna are thin and most don’t accommodate cars or larger vehicles. This leaves the constant sounds of Tuk Tuks and motorbikes zooming about.

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As a quieter means to see some of the sites of the lake I rented a horse and guide…

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We rode for several hours away from the Tuk Tuk horns and the tourists to take in some of the more picturesque sites…

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And of course, no view of the lake would be complete without a volcano in the background… Volcán San Pedro.

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After a couple of days relaxing on the lake, I head back to Antigua to plan my trip north to the township of Flores and the Mayan ruins of Tikal.

The World Wanderer

Antigua, Guatemala – Impressions

Nestled under Volcán de Agua in the Guatemalan highlands is the colonial city of Antigua. The city was once capital of Guatemala but has had a rocky history, literally. In 1717 an earthquake destroyed 3000 buildings, then in 1783 another earthquake decimated more of the city, causing those in power to move the capital to the safer Guatemala City.

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Because of its location Antigua is a hub to explore Guatemala, with Guatemala City only 45km to the east, the port of San Jose on the Pacific coast an hour south and Lago Atitlan to the west. For those keen enough, a long shuttle ride to the famous Mayan ruins of Tikal far to the north of the country can be organised.

Volcán de Agua…

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The streets themselves are cobbled. But not the perfect jigsaw of cobbles seen in some modern streets, instead a crazy mash of rounded stones that make driving on them in Tuk Tuks a bumpy experience. The city is flat, however, so unless you’re carrying a lot of baggage or just lazy, walking is the best way to get around.

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Beyond climbing the volcano it’s the scattered colonial buildings and churches that draw the most interest in the city. While some of the old churches survived the earthquakes…

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… some were not so lucky although still usable.

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Those that didn’t fare so well have been cordoned off and for good reason.

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The city does have a touristy feel about to it and because of this it’s more expensive than other places in Guatemala. Around the central park there are many fine restaurants and bars. And for the first time in Central America, a working fountain!

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Next I head west to San Pedro la Laguna on the shores of Lago Atitlan.

The World Wanderer

León, Nicaragaua – Impressions and Volcano Boarding

León Nicaragua’s second largest city and was at one point the country’s capital. However, in the 1840s and 50s the capital changed back and forth between León and Granada depending on the political regime at the time. Eventually the capital moved to the city of Managua between the two other cities.

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León is similar to Granada in that there’s a large tourist element. While Granada has its central park with a long road of restaurants and bar stretching down to the lake, León bars, restaurants and cafés dot the city, almost hidden among the markets and shops.

The centre point of the city is the cathedral but at present it doesn’t appear well maintained.

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The building is, however, being restored from the roof down. Tourists are able to climb to the newly refurbished rooftop to see the transformation.

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There are several other churches around the city and many are all need of restoration. From the roof of the cathedral there’s a good view across the city and along volcano alley. The shorter dark mound on the left is Nicaragua’s newest volcano and the location of León’s most popular outdoor activity.

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Volcano Boarding
Birthed in the 1850s the small volcano has caused much distress for León, but has also provided the city with a source of tourism – Volcano Boarding.

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The volcano is only 750m high and made primarily from small rocks and black sands. The summit is inaccessible by vehicle, so getting to the top means climbing though the shifting sands with the volcano board on your back and a bag containing overalls, gloves and goggles. The ascent takes only 45 minutes and climbs through the old crater where stains of sulphur surround smouldering rocks.

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From the top there are magnificent views of the surrounding area, including a view to the Pacific coast and along volcano alley.

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We waited for another group to go down slowly before we donned out red overalls and got our 5 minute training lesson. Then our guide waited for us half way down with camera at the ready. One at a time we pushed over the lip and began the slide down, trying not to collect stones as we went. The first part is moderately steep and allows momentum to be built…

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Then about half way down it gets steeper. The quickest time riding on boards is 93 km/h for men and 80 km/h for women. I managed a meagre 60 km/h and even that was exhilarating. The sand dust flowing behind adds a good effect.

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Then at the bottom we are back in the 4WD given a beer and driven back to town.

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Good dirty fun and even though we wore overalls, the dirt and stones get everywhere.

Next, I head north to Guatemala and the colonial city of Antigua.

The World Wanderer